Having turned his back on German academia, Weimar intellectual Walter Benjamin lived in several European cultural and political centres, among them Berlin, Moscow and Paris. In his quest to become an independent writer, these stays enabled him to explore and review German, French and Russian books and to examine cultural-topographical imaginaries inscribed into and produced by different forms of meta-literary communication – from philological scholarship, literary histories and literary criticism to journalism. A recurring feature is Benjamin’s reflection on the use, audience, and medium of (national) literary histories beyond the traditional academic monograph or anthology. While claiming their primary value for ‘foreigners’, he experimented with different journalistic forms of publication to mediate and map out other cultural, literary scenes for a German readership, for example a ‘Russischer Bädeker’ or a ‘Baedeker durch das geistige Paris’. In so doing, the (geo-cultural) outsider perspective served not only to inform on literature outside the Weimar Republic, but also presented an epistemological merit to re-work German self-perceptions about literary culture and its canonisation.
Sophia Buck’s lecture unpacks how Benjamin’s intercultural situation in the 1920s shaped his approach to literary criticism in a transnational and comparative way and examines how his professional and cultural cross overs are especially instructive when it comes to questioning how topographical imaginaries underpin academic historiographic practices more generally.
Speakers: Sophia Buck (Merton College, Oxford); Moderator: Godela Weiss-Sussex (ILCS, University of London)
Event date: Recording of the lecture held in Senate House on Friday, 28 April 2023